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Protesters take aim at nuclear plant

Say the Koodankulam plant poses a grave threat to their livelihoods

Social activist Medha Patkar, center, talks with protesters in Tamil Nadu Social activist Medha Patkar, center, talks with protesters in Tamil Nadu
  • Leo Fernando, Chennai
  • India
  • September 20, 2011
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Thousands of fishermen along with nuns and priests in two Tamil Nadu dioceses are protesting the building of a nuclear plant in the southern Indian state, one of whose reactors is set to go online in coming months.

The Koodankulam Nuclear plant, built with Russian technology, is scheduled to start operations from December and will produce 2,000 megawatts of electricity.

Terming the nuclear plant “a disaster in waiting”, Church leaders are backing the protests by people from Tuticorin and Kottar dioceses.

Fear of a Fukushima-like disaster is fueling the protests, Xavier Fernando, a local Catholic lay leader, said today, referring to the nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan in May as a result of an earthquake and tsunami that damaged the plant’s cooling system and led to a partial core meltdown.

More than 127 people, including women, Hindus, Muslims, students, nuns and priests have been on a hunger strike for 10 consecutive days, he said.

Fishermen from Idinthakarai, a Catholic fishing village, began their indefinite fast in front of Our Lady of Lourdes Church on September 11.

Thousands of fishermen, farmers and people of all faiths from 20 Catholic villages and in a dozen others around Koodankulam from the districts of Kanaykumari, Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli have joined the protests.

“Russian nuclear technology has failed in Chernobyl. Why should we use it here to endanger our lives,” said Bishop Yuvon Ambroise of Tuticorin and chairperson of the Office for Justice, Peace and Development (JPD) at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

Fishermen have boycotted their trade since the fast began and many Catholic villages have started kanji thotti, or porridge serving centers, to help poor families.

“Our lives are in danger because of the nuclear plant,” said Bishop Peter Remigius of Kottar. “We want the facilities to be used for useful purposes.”

Bishop Ambroise said the country should look to Europe and Japan as an example.

“India should follow Germany and Japan, who recently announced that they are giving up their nuclear facilities after the Fukushima disaster.”

The area in India in which the nuclear plant is built was affected by the Asian Tsunami that struck the region in December 2004.

Noted social activist Medha Patkar said questions remained over why the government had approved the facility in an inhabited area despite environmental concerns.

State officials have said, however, that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has assured them that a federal minister would be appointed to meet with protesters and “assuage their fears about the nuclear plant.”

Meanwhile, the JDP issued a statement today asking the government to close the reactors at Koodankulam and to gradually decommission all existing nuclear reactors in the country.

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